I waited for eight months for the book-on-CD copy of this book. Yes, EIGHT MONTHS! By the time I got it, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me. I’m not sure why. I loved Hosseini’s other books, but this one let me down. Oh well. Read on to find out why.
The way two people’s lives can separate and come together is an amazing thing. The story follows siblings Abdullah and Pari through their lives though not often in a direct way. The two are separated when Pari is only three and is sold to a wealthy man whose wife is unable to have children. They raise her as if she were their own child and Pari is never told that she has a brother.
The book is told from the point of view of various people who interact with their complicated relationship. One character is the uncle who arranged for Pari to be sold to the wealthy family. Another is Adel, the son of a warlord who has claimed the land Abdullah and his family grew up on. Through these characters the reader watches the years pull Pari and Abdullah apart until they finally crash back together again.
I had mixed feelings on this book. I am a huge fan of Hosseini’s other works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I heard him speak when I was in college and have this (terrible) picture of me with him. He is a really inspirational person and has done a lot of great charity work with the UN. So I wanted to like it. I mean I really wanted to. But it just didn’t happen for me. I liked the back-and-forth time period enough, but the switching points of view was a bit much. It felt more like a collection of short stories than a single novel to me and it was difficult to get into. I listed to this on audio and there were three narrators, including Hosseini. I found their accents distracting, to be honest. At least at first. It got easier by the third disc or so.
Hosseini writes amazing characters. I loved the way he wound cultures and countries together and showed us that no matter what a person’s upbringing is or what language they speak, they’re still a person and they still affect everyone around them. Idris impacts Roshi by not acting and Amra impacts her through actions. The decisions we make impact everyone and I think Hosseini did an amazing job showing this. When I met him, he seemed very ‘American’ to me. He talked about watching football on Sundays and yard work. I think this plays into his message that we still are ourselves no matter the setting and people around us. It doesn’t matter that Hosseini lives in the US and watches the NFL. He’s still an Afghan and loves his country.
My favorite was Markos, a doctor in Kabul. He rents and later owns the home where Pari’s adopted parents lived before the house was gifted to Pari’s uncle, Nabi. After Nabi dies, it’s Markos who finds Pari and tells her the truth about her parents. Markos has a back-story that really touched me. He grew up with an adopted sister with a serious deformity. Even though he was at first disgusted by it, he learns to love her and learn how beautiful she is. His faith in humanity and in her beauty inspires him to do a lot of things such as becoming a doctor and returning to visit his mother. I felt that he was more affected by the story of Abdullah and Pari than any other character.
I think the fact that I couldn’t relate to any of the characters was part of what made this book less enjoyable to me than the others. The only character I felt any connection to was Idris and that’s because he lived in the US and experienced the ‘US bubble’ that we see around us every day. We think, ‘How terrible that people are starving in Africa and those in Haiti still don’t have homes. I need to go buy a $500 computer so you can’t have my $10.’ We’re all guilty of it. And this made me angry with myself more than I sympathized with Idris.
I loved following Pari’s life in Paris. I loved her as an independent woman and her struggle to relate to her mother. Nila was hard to understand and relate to as well and I’m glad (from a story point of view) that Pari and Nila struggled to get along. Nila was so selfish that she was hard to love. I hated more than anything that she lied to Pari about her adopted father’s condition and that she was adopted. Was it really too hard to say your adopted father is disabled and we adopted you? Any way. I loved Pari’s attitude and her drive to accomplish something so different than her mother. I found her really inspiring.
I thought Adel’s story was a little too far removed from the plot and it took me out of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of my favorite stories (after Markos) in the novel, but I saw it as too much of a stretch. Adel didn’t have siblings and his relation to Abdullah and Pari was through their younger half-brother, Iqbal. I don’t know, it seemed disjointed.
I just looked through the Wikipedia page (because it’s a reliable source) and saw that a reviewer from the New York Times said this book is about sibling relationships as told through several pairs of siblings. I did not pick up on that until now. There are a ton of examples: Pari/Abdullah, Parwana/Nabi, Idris/Timur, and Markos/Thalia. The more I think about this, the more I like it. All of these siblings have drastically different relationships with each other, but it remains true that they affect each other throughout their entire lives. Hosseini’s first two books focused on parent/child relationships and I liked the switch to siblings in this novel. He went for a very different narrative style but still kept the focus on family.
Writer’s Takeaway: Hosseini made a bold move by changing his writing style so much for this novel and I’m not sure if it paid off. On one side, I liked seeing so many different people from such different backgrounds but I think it diluted his message by muddling the story of Abdullah and Pari with so many other plot lines. It’s unfortunate that as authors we’re supposed to pick a style and stick with it and that those who want to change styles or genres many times have to use a pen name. I think it’s great that Hosseini attempted something different and I think it worked for the majority of people, but it didn’t work well for me.
I think I might have liked the physical book better than the audio on this one, but it was still enjoyable. Three out of five stars.
This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: Afghanistan’ on my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.
Until next time, write on.
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